Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.
How Addiction Impacts Our Family
“I’m not hurting anyone but myself!” Sound familiar? It should.
That’s what addicted persons say to get you off our backs. We say it to ourselves, too. Why? Because addiction lies to us in our own voice. It tells us it will be fun. And it is, at first. Then it tells us we need it.
As our tolerance builds, we need more drugs or alcohol to get the same effect we achieved initially. To maintain our habit, we start doing things we said we’d never do. Drugs and alcohol tell us we can’t live without them. That’s when things get really bad.
We lose ourselves and become a puppet to this disease. We’re oblivious. We don’t know we’ve become puppets. We’re delusional and out of touch with reality. That’s why addiction is called a brain disease.
We still think we’re in control, but really, our addiction controls everything we think and do and ultimately, it controls the people around us. That’s why addiction is called a family disease.
Our families experience extreme stress due to our addiction. They understand we’re not intentionally trying to hurt them and they want to provide us love, encouragement and support. However, our lies, manipulation and abuse create nothing but pain. To keep the peace, they may tolerate intolerable behaviors or react to their stress by yelling, swearing or acting out. This creates guilt that can lead to enabling behaviors.
Addiction turns one parent against the other.
Maintaining an addiction takes a massive amount of money. When we’re broke the first person we hit up is Mom or Dad. One parent is often better at setting boundaries than the other. An addicted person will call the parent who is most likely to say yes. When one parent keeps secrets from the other, it creates division.
Parents who aren’t on the same page will become angry with one another. In their frustration, they may blame the other parent for the child’s addiction. Instead of finding comfort and solace with each other, they turn on one other ultimately ending in a fractured family system or divorce.
Addiction changes our partners into sad, jealous people.
My partner and I knew there would be bumps along the way, but neither of us realized how enormous those bumps would be. We both used drugs and alcohol, but he could stop and I couldn’t. When he stopped, I carried on. Sometimes I’d be gone all night. My absences changed the funny, happy-go-lucky man who loved me into an angry control freak. He was sick with jealousy, and his behavior ultimately became as unhealthy as my own.
Addiction forces our children to grow up way too soon.
The effects of living with an addicted parent can be felt long after childhood is over. Parental alcoholism and drug addiction can create poor self-image, loneliness, guilt, anxiety, feelings of helplessness, fear of abandonment and chronic depression in children. It robs our kids of their childhood and forces them to grow up way too soon. They become hypervigilant, wounded little soldiers, who cry themselves to sleep at night.
The addict’s child learns that what adults say and do are two different things. They learn self-reliance and to build walls. They learn to walk on eggshells, and that feelings are dangerous. They learn to say they’re ‘fine’ when they’re not. They learn to keep secrets to protect their parents. They experience tummy-aches and headaches as a result of growing up in turmoil. They learn to wear a mask and to hide their pain. Without counseling, support and education, children of addicted parents are at high risk of growing up and repeating the cycle.
Addiction robs our siblings of their parents.
Siblings face unique pain. Not only do they lose their relationship with their addicted sibling, they often lose their relationship with their parents, too. They may try and warn Mom or Dad that their brother or sister is using drugs, only to be reprimanded for it. Siblings may be asked to be more empathetic to their addicted sibling. Siblings are often held to one standard of behavior, while the addicted person is held to another. Parents can become so consumed with their sick child that they may neglect or ignore their other kids.
Addiction turns our friends into co-conspirators.
No friend wants to ‘rat’ on their best buddy. However, under the influence, addicted folks do things they normally wouldn’t do. We tell our friends our secrets and ask them not to tell. This puts them in a bind. They know our family and may feel torn. Our friends cover for us even if they don’t like it. Eventually, they’ll come clean with our families, or they’ll stop taking our calls.
Addiction takes a toll on our employers and co-workers.
I’ve lost count of the times I phoned in sick from work with the flu. At first, my employer was empathetic. Over time, empathy fades as my calls increased. Being dope-sick and hungover meant my boss and co-workers were picking up my slack. They often worked double shifts to cover my absences.
Addiction manipulates your love.
If you love a person struggling with addiction, you may be at risk. We become very skilled at manipulating and finding new ways and schemes to get what we want from you. We may use your love to our advantage and enable. We know how to play you, we know what buttons to push and we know what to say. We also know who to ask for money. We appear closest to our enablers, but are not capable of healthy love or meeting your emotional needs.
There is good news-
Addicted persons often feel great shame. They believe because they do bad things, that they are bad. However, addicted persons are neither bad nor weak. They’re sick. Luckily addiction is highly treatable. There’s no shame in getting well. If you’re struggling or love someone who is, reach out. Addicted persons are most successful when their families are educated and in recovery too.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support line for assistance. 1-888-614-2379.